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By Collin Breaux

Lining up with other aspects of daily life in California gradually reopening, and with the support from parents, the Capistrano Unified School District is eyeing a full-time, five-day return to campus for students during the 2021-22 school year, starting in August.

District staff previewed aspects of what’s called the “reopening 2.0 plan” during a Board of Trustees meeting on April 21. The plan that was presented was a draft, and trustees did not vote on any details. Approval for a final plan is expected during next month’s BOT meeting on May 19.

Teachers union members were consulted when coming up with the reopening plan, which would bring all students back to CUSD campuses full-time for the following school year, slated to begin Aug. 17.

The reopening plan, if approved, would follow all guidelines from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), including requiring masks for students. The district would work to reduce class sizes at schools.

In-person instruction would reportedly follow a traditional bell schedule. The reopening plan would also bring back physical education and elective courses that were cut from the curriculum during the current 2020-21 school year.

The district’s discussions on next school year’s reopening come as middle and high school campuses this week welcomed back more of their students for in-person instruction. On-campus capacity expanded to four days a week for the remainder of the current school year.

CUSD students gradually began returning to campuses on a limited capacity back in September. Campuses initially closed in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Online instruction was instituted afterward, with parents and trustees criticizing the initial level of quality of the distance learning curriculum.

While on campus, students are to continue wearing face masks in and out of the classrooms, with the exception of their lunch hour.   

A discussion on the very topic of mask requirements came up during the CUSD board meeting this month. Gregory Merwin, chief academic officer for education and support services, said the district anticipates masks will likely continue to be required.

“We expect to hear more from the governor,” Merwin said. “He mentioned June 15 as a date where additional information will be shared.”

Merwin also cited information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the effectiveness of masks, in terms of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Some parents who commented during the meeting spoke out against the effectiveness of masks.

“We will be watching very closely on CDPH guidance, because as a public entity, CDPH sets that standard of care for us as a public school district,” Merwin said. “We must follow CDPH’s guidance. We do not have an option as a public school district.”

Trustee Gila Jones said everything they do in a public school is regulated by the state.

“You can say, well, just violate the rules,” Jones said. “But they’re the ones who send us the money. If we don’t follow their rules, they can actually defund us.”

Capo Unified intends to still provide a separate online learning program if families choose to not send a student back to campus. The online model will also follow a traditional bell schedule.

District staff plans to educate and reach out to families about the reopening, and it will launch a reopening 2.0 website for families before the August start date.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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